Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
My mother hazily remembers the day JFK was shot, a day defined for her by weeping nuns and being sent home early from school. Most adults today have seen the footage, even if we weren’t alive when it happened, of the 35th president’s tragic convertible ride. That bloody image, framed by the ever-elegant Jackie, is part of our collective national identity.
JFK’s assassination marked an era, and it’s nearly impossible to ignore the impending anniversary of the tragedy that marks this era: 9/11. I remember coming downstairs in my college apartment that day, seeing the television footage. Instead of focusing on a single man and his lovely wife, the prominent images of this tragedy are collapsing towers and mobs of people. In the initial aftermath, there was so much confusion, so much difficulty in determining what happened and why; we weren’t even sure at first if the attack on the Twin Towers was an accident. Slowly the news trickled in, but the chaos only increased. Buildings crumbled and families scrambled to locate each other, our impressive technology incapable of filling the terrible void of silence, the not knowing.
The assassination of a president is a terrible thing, but it’s an anticipated possibility, with an orderly line of succession. It’s a tragedy but also a known risk that comes with the power of leading a nation. 9/11 was different, a game-changer that most of us never saw coming, with no clear path afterward and no way to restore the orderly worldview that collapsed that morning. The movement from Kennedy’s presidency to Johnson’s was a seamless transition built into our government; that does not deny the horror of murder, but it provides a way forward. With 9/11, there is just a rift, a chasm that forever separates the before and after. There is no protocol for the magnitude of 9/11.
So as the tenth anniversary approaches and so many of us re-watch those images, remembering where we were, what do we say to those who have always lived in a post-9/11 world? How do we explain an event that defies explanation? How do we make sense of the way so many families and a nation itself were forever changed? If our children ask that critical question—Why?—what do we say? As we remember, I pray for grace to ask and answer the questions that still seem unanswerable.